The Importance of Family
The Sopranos. Source: News Corp Australia
In the last episode of season one of The Sopranos, Anthony is told by his psychiatrist that his mother almost certainly has a ‘borderline personality disorder’ and probably wants to have him killed. At first, he rejects the very notion and storms out of the consultation in disgust. Subsequently he learns that his mother has indeed contrived to have him (her son) killed by her late husband’s brother, Anthony’s uncle ‘Junior’. He is truly shattered. Fortunately, their efforts fail.
Anthony Soprano is forced to confront the ultimate rejection – that of his own mother. It is almost unbearable. Anthony is vigilant in fulfilling what he considers are his duties as a son. He visits her regularly. He takes her things she likes. He is concerned about her welfare.
His mother never shows her appreciation and often rejects his efforts out of hand. Nevertheless, he keeps trying – at least until his eyes are opened to the fact that, his mother not only does not love him, but actually perceives him as an adversary and wishes to have him killed.
Anthony’s mother has an insatiable appetite for fulfilling her own emotional needs. Anthony’s love of his mother – or at least his strong sense of duty towards his mother is perceived by her as a weakness to exploit. This gives her control over her son. Instead of giving love, she abuses the control she has over him and gives nothing in return. She is either unwilling or unable to provide any emotional comfort or assurance to her son.
Of course, Anthony Soprano is a fictional character, but his experience of destructive selfishness and emotional exploitation has at one time or another been experienced at least at some level, by all of us.
Most if not all societies place considerable burdens, duties and expectations of mothers, fathers and children. Family is everything. Family is understood to be the ultimate refuge in times of difficulty. Thus, betrayal or rejection by members of our family is a taboo. It can never happen. But it always does – at some point. Family, friends, people - ultimately disappoint us and hurt us. Why is that?
The issues are touched upon in the Christian’s New Testament. While Jesus of Nazareth is teaching in the Synagogue:
‘Someone told him, “Look, your mother and your brothers are standing outside, wanting to speak to you.” But to the one who had told him this, Jesus replied, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” And pointing to his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers!’ [i]
On the face of it, Jesus is rejecting his own mother and family. In fact, he is redefining what is meant by ‘family’. He is inviting us to look at relationships from a different perspective.
The core message of Jesus of Nazareth is ‘Metaonia’. The Gospel according to Mark is written closest in time to the death of Jesus, and Matthew and Luke use Mark as the primary source for their content. Mark states in chapter one that Jesus taught:
‘the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news’[ii]
The word ‘repent’ is a mistranslation of the original Greek word ‘metanoia’. The passage should read:
‘the kingdom of God has come near; metanoia, and believe in the good news’
That this is at the very heart of Jesus’ teaching cannot be in reasonable doubt. It is the very same teaching that he instructs his disciples[iii] to go out into the world to teach:
‘He said to them, “Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave the place. If any place will not welcome you and they refuse to hear you, as you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.” So they went out and proclaimed that all should repent’.[iv]
The word ‘metanoia’ includes the concept of ‘repentance’, being truly sorry and resolving not to repeat. But ‘metanoia’ means more. It means a change in focus of what is important to your life. Ultimately, it means moving away from the primary pursuit of physical, material gain and instead directing your efforts primarily, bit not exclusively, towards fulfilling the two commandments namely:
To love God
To love your neighbour
When Jesus points to his disciples and proclaims them to be his mother and brothers, his family, he is saying this:
Our true ‘father’ (he called him ‘Aba’) is God – the Creator, the Source, Krishna, Allah – the Light, the One – whatever name you give the ultimate source of everything.
Anyone that makes the effort to shift their focus and their energy primarily towards the two commandments, is a member of the family of God.[v]
Being a member of God’s family is more than sufficient for all our emotional and physical needs.
If the primary focus is in loving God and all other humans, we can never be disappointed by how people including, family and friends react or what we receive or do not receive from them.
Why is that? Because love, true love, is selfless – not selfish.
As St Paul so eloquently put it:
Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Love never ends[vi]
In short, the teaching of Jesus is the same as the teaching of all great sages and enlightened beings. It is to make every effort to learn how to recognise God in all things and love - selflessly.
Such recognition and love are of course easier to understand and put into practice with those who we are related to or like. But is it true love?
When we come to examine closely the ‘love’ we say we have for our family and friends, is it truly and entirely selfless – or is there just a tinge (or more) of ‘I’m loving you because it is expected of me’ and/or ‘I’m loving you, and I expect you to love me in return?’
It is part of the metanoia process to understand just how deep and profound your love is and to who or what it is primarily directed. To fully and properly and selflessly love, takes practice and effort. It takes effort because the ego in us is the opposite of selfless. It is selfish. There is a reason why this is the case, and I will explain more about that another time.
[i] Matthew 12:47-49 NRSV
[ii] Mark 1: 15 NRSV
[iii] A ‘disciple’ is someone who follows to learn: An ‘apostle’ is one of the first-hand disciples and early teacher of what Jesus taught.
[iv] Should be ‘metanoia’. Mark 6:10-12 NRSV
[v] It is effort that is required of us. ‘But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. [Matthew 6:33]. The word ‘strive’ makes it clear that it takes personal effort - just as ‘metanoia’ does too.
[vi] Corinthians 13:4-8
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